A Victory Worth Celebrating, Yet the Fight Is Not Over

Governor Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking in New York State is a historic victory. The New York health community is pleased that we were able to have a dialogue with our state government, and that science and public health concerns prevailed here.

But our work is not done. In addition to about 23.5 million cubic feet of natural gas extracted annually from conventional gas and oil wells in our state,  New York is a transit hub for getting fracked shale gas to market. Pipelines and compressors are being built or expanded, and we know from residents in Pennsylvania that this infrastructure causes negative human health impacts. Waste from drilling operations in Pennsylvania has made its way to New York for disposal, and imported fracking wastes have been spread on New York’s roads. There are toxic chemicals and radioactive elements in that waste.

New York’s gas pipelines, compressor stations and storage facilities bringing in fracked gas from out-of-state leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and other chemicals, causing health and environmental impacts. For a PSR-NY roundup of useful scientific sources you can investigate on fracking’s health impacts, read this.

Findings on Fracking in New York

New York’s decision to ban fracking is a huge victory, but there is more work to be done, for example, to identify and prevent harm from fracking chemicals still spread on New York’s roads. Our colleagues at Concerned Health Professionals of NY prepared a useful compendium of scientific, medical and other findings on risks and harms of fracking.

Read the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking and Associated Gas and Oil Infrastructure, 9th Edition (October 2023) by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and PSR National.

For more information on fracking:

What Are Some of Fracking’s Impacts?

Unconventional gas operations involving hydro-fracking are intensive industrial processes, and have been shown to cause environmental problems and adverse health impacts, including:

  • Chemical Exposures – many toxic chemicals and mixtures of chemicals are used in fracking fluids, without requirements for disclosure. Silica sand used in the process can cause lung disease. Thousands of trucks are involved, increasing particulate pollution, risk of chemical spills and traffic accidents.
  • Water – The vast amounts of water fracking uses may deplete fresh water aquifers, which can devastate aquatic ecologies and drinking water supplies.  Fracking infrastructure lacks adequate ways of disposing of toxic waste and contaminations of springs, streams and other water resources via spills and releases occur.
  • Impacts from Drilling and Fracturing – Aquifers can become contaminated because of well casing failure, migration of fluid through faults, and accidental or deliberate spills. Air pollutants and ozone are generated by diesel transport vehicles and during drilling. Induced seismic activity at varying levels of intensity can cause new subsurface faults and create surface safety hazards.
  • Completion, Flaring and Transport – In addition to fracking chemicals, carcinogenic radionuclides can contaminate leaking gases, and along with heavy metals, they are present in flowback water and drill cuttings. In some cases, radon and its radioactive decay products may contaminate pipelines and pose a hazard to end-users. Gas drilling and transport leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.  Additional air pollutants and ozone are generated by venting, flaring and processing, and at compressor stations.

A Case in Point: Seneca Lake

Even though fracking will be banned from New York State, downstream impacts from the fracking industry are still causing impacts here. For example, a merger of Inergy LP and the Texas company Crestwood Midlands proposes to turn long-abandoned depleted salt caverns on Seneca Lake (in between Syracuse and Rochester) into an “integrated natural gas storage and transportation hub in the Northeast,” including facilities for storing liquefied propane and butane, and to expand natural gas storage there. This entails injecting gas under high pressure directly into the caverns, and replacing withdrawn gas with brine many times saltier than seawater. The site’s geology is risky and the plan threatens Seneca Lake and public health. PSR-NY is standing with colleagues and citizens’ groups fighting the project.

Round Up of Useful Scientific Sources on Fracking Health Effects

On December 17th, 2014, Acting New York State Department of Health Commissioner Zucker, having analyzed reams of peer-reviewed papers, consulted with three out-of-state experts, and visited several states where gas drilling and fracking were underway, stated decisively that he could not recommend that high volume hydraulic fracturing be allowed in the great state of New York.

The NYS DOH health review can be found here, and a video of the NYS Cabinet meeting where the fracking decision was discussed is posted here (the fracking discussion starts 41 minutes in).

Towards the end of the health review are insightful summaries written by experts including Lynn Goldman from Washington DC, John Adgate from Colorado and Dick Jackson from California. All three were asked to comment on whether a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) would be useful. Of the three, only John Adgate didn’t think so, but his group already conducted an excellent HIA (abandoned in a second draft) with useful information, posted here.

Just before the decision on fracking was made, two analyses by independent health groups were made public and shared with the NYS Department of Health. The first was from our New York colleagues at the energy think-tank Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, posted here. They analyzed relevant peer-reviewed literature on fracking and found 96% of all papers on health effects indicate risks/adverse health outcomes; 95% of all original research studies on air quality indicate elevated concentrations of air pollutants; 72% of original research studies on water quality indicate contamination or risk of contamination.

Another group, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY), which includes several PSR-NY members, started its campaign on fracking about four years ago by asking the NYS Department of Health to get involved, and to do a Health Impact Assessment. Those are documented in CHPNY letters posted here.

CHPNY and PSR released a new edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings of Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction),” available here. It documents the recent explosion in peer-reviewed publications on fracking,  nearly three quarters of which were published in the past 24 months.

Learn More